Somebody Discovered a Saturn Rocket Motor Just Sitting in a Missouri Junkyard

Illustration for article titled Somebody Discovered a Saturn Rocket Motor Just Sitting in a Missouri Junkyard

Whenever I drive past a junkyard, it’s always a struggle to keep my focus on driving and not crane my neck sideways to scrutinize every interesting bit of twisted metal rusting in the yard. Sometimes, though, that instinct can pay off in big, unexpected ways. Like how this guy happened to notice a rocket motor from a Saturn rocket just sitting in a Missouri scrapyard.

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The person who noticed the rocket motor posted the picture on Reddit’s Rocketry forum, asking “What kind of engine is this?”

Though we’re primarily car geeks, we can all understand the powerful draw of such a picture and question, and the hardcore rocket geeks had a pretty definitive answer in no time: it appears to be an H-1 rocket engine, an engine that was built by Chrysler, builders of the Nitro, as part of the Saturn I and IB rockets that were part of the Apollo lunar program.

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And, looking at that rocket motor, it sure as hell looks like it’s an H-1.

Illustration for article titled Somebody Discovered a Saturn Rocket Motor Just Sitting in a Missouri Junkyard
Illustration for article titled Somebody Discovered a Saturn Rocket Motor Just Sitting in a Missouri Junkyard

Sure, it’s in rough shape and some bits are missing, but this appears to be a genuine Saturn rocket engine, the same kind used to send Apollo spacecraft into Earth orbit for testing, and also the kind that was used to launch crews to Skylab, and send up the American half of the famous 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission.

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It’s a big deal.

So what the hell is it doing out in the middle of Missouri?

Some commenters on the thread found that the scrapyard itself appears to be for sale, just in case you’re considering getting into a new line of work.

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As for how this engine ended up there, another commenter found that there was once a factory that used to make these not too far away in Neosho, Missouri, which gives a plausible reason how this engine could have settled in that particular scrapyard.

It’s still about two or so hours away, but it’s not like it would have had to have traveled from Florida or California, maybe.

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Looking at the site on Google Street View is sort of unintentionally hilarious, as a big aluminum trailer happens to be blocking the view perfectly, showing only the faint reflection of the Google Street View car in the trailer:

Illustration for article titled Somebody Discovered a Saturn Rocket Motor Just Sitting in a Missouri Junkyard
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Switching to the opposite view, though, gives you what you need, and clearly shows the rocket engine just sitting there:

Illustration for article titled Somebody Discovered a Saturn Rocket Motor Just Sitting in a Missouri Junkyard
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We’ve reached out to A_Cup-O-Dirt, the original poster, to see if there’s any plans to find out more about the engine, see how much it is, get that baby going again, or whatever. So far, we have yet to hear back, but we’ll let you know if we do.

Illustration for article titled Somebody Discovered a Saturn Rocket Motor Just Sitting in a Missouri Junkyard
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Until then, what would you do with this? Let’s say you had the money to buy it—though knowing exactly how much it’s worth is pretty tricky. Other Apollo engine hardware has been going for around $100,000, much less complete, so assuming this could get anywhere from $75,000 to, oh, $150,000 I think is a safe bet.

Assuming you could get it working again, this engine can produce up to 200,000 lpf of thrust—that would certainly give your old AMC Matador project car some kick, right?

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Should the Smithsonian buy it for display? Should a rich dude make it into his personal sex-tepee? Should you have it for your Untitled 2019 Jetpack Project? I want to hear ideas, people!

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

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DISCUSSION

makerofthegames
makerofthegames

Just a quick primer on the Saturn series, since I’m sure it will come up:

The Saturn I was used for testing the Apollo modules. It never carried humans, and it was kind of cobbled together from existing designs. It was a two-stage rocket, the first stage using 8 H-1 engines, the second stage using 6 RL-10 engines.

The Saturn IB was used for crewed tests of the Apollo modules, and later to launch crews to Skylab and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. It had enough power to get a full Apollo stack into Earth orbit, but no further - this was never going to go to the moon. It kept the 8 H-1 engines in the first stage, but upgraded the second to a single J-2 engine.

The Saturn V was used for actual Apollo lunar missions, as well as launching the Skylab space station. The first stage used five F-1 engines, the second stage used five J-2 engines, and the third stage used a single J-2 engine.

The H-1 (what we seem to have here) was a pretty standard kerolox engine, burning a special grade of kerosene not dissimilar to jet fuel, but with tighter constraints on sulfur content, and liquid oxygen. It’s actually not too dissimilar, in design or general performance, to the Merlin-1 engines powering the Falcon 9, just larger and heavier and less efficient, like all engines from that era. After Apollo, it was rebranded as the RS-27 and used on the Delta I (and some Delta II) rockets.

The RL-10 is a very small engine, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. It’s still used to this day (in upgraded form) on the Atlas V rocket, and is planned to be used on SLS (should that pile of pork actually fly), Vulcan, and OmegA, and probably a couple others I’m forgetting. It’s a very lightweight engine, as it has no separate burner for its fuel pump. Rather, the fuel used for cooling the main combustion chamber expands under heat, and is used to drive the fuel pump. Very clever, but it doesn’t scale up. That’s why six of them were needed to come close to the performance of one J-2.

The J-2 is a more conventional rocket engine, burning hydrogen and oxygen. An upgraded design was later made for use in the Ares rockets, but was never constructed and the Ares program was scrapped after one launch.

The F-1 remains the largest single-chamber rocket engine ever made. The Soviets never figured out how to make that work - they did build a more powerful engine, the RD-170, but it uses a single pump feeding four combustion chambers and four exhaust nozzles. And just for a point of reference - the fuel pump on the F-1 is about 10,000 horsepower, because it’s moving 40,000 gallons of kerosene and liquid oxygen per minute. It was a massive beast of an engine. There’s been concepts using it or derivatives, from the Nova to Saturn-Shuttle to using it on SLS boosters. None of them have yet flown, although plenty of money has been spent working up engine improvements.